Cameron pledges 2017 EU referendum: ‘It is time for the British people to have their say’

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UK prime minister David Cameron, calling the democratic legitimacy of the European Union ‘wafer thin,’ has this morning pledged to renegotiate a new settlement with the European Union for the United Kingdom, and then a straight in-or-out referendum within the United Kingdom by 2017.European_UnionUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Well, then.  Today’s address was probably the most important speech of Cameron’s career and perhaps the most important turning point on UK-EU relations since Britain’s hard-fought entry 40 years ago into what was then the European Economic Community.

Less than a month after the EU fiscal compact treaty goes into effect, and on the day that France and Germany are celebrating 50 years of friendship –as cemented by the Élysée Treaty — no less, Cameron is pledging the referendum that neither his Conservative predecessors as prime minister, Margaret Thatcher nor John Major dared to hold.

Given that the United Kingdom is not (and will not anytime soon) be a member of the eurozone, there’s a rationale for the UK to negotiate a role where it is not subject to the ever-closer political union that the eurozone crisis has required, and it should be clear that the UK won’t cede fiscal and banking policymaking to Brussels when it hasn’t ceded monetary policymaking.  But it doesn’t follow that the UK needs to renegotiate those issues; after all, given the ‘Europe at multiple speeds’ approach that’s now reality, the UK has opted out of many EU initiatives — not only the single currency, but also the Schengen Agreement that eliminates internal border controls within the EU.

I’ll have plenty of longer thoughts on Cameron’s gambit later this week.

But for now, as I listen to his speech in real time, here are some initial reactions.

Cameron has ended his speech with a note of caution that the United Kingdom is not Norway and it is not Switzerland, and he’s discussing the benefits of membership in the EU — ‘more powerful in Washington, Beijing, Delhi’ by remaining in the EU — not to mention the free trade benefits of the single market.

By 2017, if there’s actually a referendum, and Cameron’s Tories have won the 2015 general election, I predict that Cameron will be arguing for a ‘yes’ vote on such a referendum.

It’s worth noting that no member-state has ever left the European Union (although Greenland, part of the Danish realm, voted to pull out of the EU in 1985 in order to protect its fishing rights — an issue that’s snagged Icelandic and Norwegian membership in the EU as well).

In the meanwhile, this seems like a political masterstroke — Cameron has pulled a play directly from the political playbook of Labour prime minister Harold Wilson, who held his own referendum on the United Kingdom’s EU membership in 1975 (it won 67,2%).


  • In giving the euroskeptics a clear referendum on Europe, Cameron has now given them a reason to work hard for a Tory victory in 2015.
  • Given the relatively anti-Tory and pro-Europe view of the Scottish, the referendum, scheduled for 2017, need not spook the Scottish toward independence, given the scheduled 2014 referendum within Scotland on Scottish independence.
  • He will have quieted the euroskeptic right within his own caucus, notably his former defense minister Liam Fox and other anti-Europe Tories.
  • He will have managed to draw some daylight between his party and his coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, who are incredibly pro-Europe, thereby giving the Lib Dems something with which to distance themselves from the Tories.  That will only help win votes away from Labour in 2015.
  • He will have taken the steam out of the rising United Kingdom Independence Party, not only for 2015, but for next year’s elections to the European Parliament.
  • By keeping the terms of renegotiation vague, Cameron can take any concessions from Europeans and declare victory (say, an opt-out from the working time directive), and push for a ‘yes’ vote in 2017.

Provisional Israeli election results show a 60-60 split


The provisional election results for the Knesset show exactly 60 seats for the right-wing and ultraorthodox parties and exactly 60 seats for the center-left and Arab parties.ISrel Flag Icon

I’ve already written some thoughts about the winners and losers in Tuesday’s elections, and I think that analysis remains on point.

A few quick notes (it’s 3 a.m. on the East coast, so let me be brief):

  • The Arab parties have won more seats (12) than originally projected in the exit polls, but nowhere near parity with their 20% share of the Israeli Arab population, which would have resulted in 24 seats.
  • If you look at the list of ‘Likud Beiteinu’ candidates, among the top 31, there are 11 Yisrael Beiteinu members, which means that Likud has won just 20 seats in the Knesset after Tuesday’s election versus 19 seats for Yesh Atid.
  • I don’t think that Israeli president Shimon Peres could look to Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, to form a government, but if the 20-19 split went the other way, I think it might be a different story.
  • Kadima has won — just barely — two seats in the Knesset.
  • United Torah Judaism has won the city of Jerusalem, with 22.11% to 20.48% for Likud Beiteinu, 15.58% for Shas, 11.78 for Bayit Yehudi and just 6.96% for Yesh Atid.
  • Yesh Atid has won the city of Tel Aviv, however, with 20.73%, to just 17.51% for Likud Beiteinu, 16.83% for Labor and 14.34% for Meretz.
  • Labor has fallen back to just 15 seats, which will be a bit of a disappointment for Shelly Yacimovich.
  • Bayit Yehudi has fallen back to just 11 seats, which will also be a bit of a disappointment for Naftali Bennett.
  • This is still Benjamin Netanyahu’s game to lose, and I think he’s still the overwhelming favorite to remain prime minister, though he’s incredibly weaker than he was 24 hours ago.
  • He has six weeks to form a coalition under Israeli law.
  • Under my previous analysis of the five most likely Netanyahu-led coalitions, each is still a viable path.
  • In particular:
    • Right-wing coalition: Likud-Beiteinu (31) + Shas (11) + United Torah Judaism (7) + Kadima (2) + Bayit Yehudi (11) = 62-MK majority. Note that under this scenario, Netanyahu must have Kadima’s two MKs (one is a former Likud MK, the other a former Yisrael Beiteinu MK, so this is probably likelier than not).
    • Centrist coalition: Likud-Beiteinu (31) + Shas (11) + United Torah Judaism (7) + Kadima (2) + Yesh Atid (19) = 70-MK majority.  As predicted, this is the easiest of the centrist coalitions, and it’s now probably the most likely of all the coalitions.  Though if I were Lapid, I’d hold out for a position more influential than education minister.
  • In a world where Avigdor Lieberman takes his 11 MKs from his nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu away from Netanyahu, all bets are off (admittedly, it’s hard to see him doing that to support Yair Lapid for prime minister).

Muslim Brotherhood boycott highlights Jordanian elections

King Abdullah II

Sheikh Hammam Said

Jordan goes to the polls in the second election in as many days in the Middle East. But unlike Israel’s topsy-turvy free-for-all, don’t expect much change as a result of today’s Jordanian parliamentary elections.jordan flag icon

The salient feature of today’s election is that the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t participating — many of the parliamentary seats will be won by ‘independents’ who support Jordan’s monarchy.

Though it didn’t threaten to topple Jordan’s monarch like it did the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, the Arab Spring nonetheless visited the country in February 2011 in the form of protests for more representative government and, more recently, riots in November 2012 following cuts in fuel subsidies last year.

Budget austerity has come even to the Hashemite Kingdom, where times are tough, economically speaking — the country, which lacks the rich mineral and oil wealth of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates, is notching some of the lowest GDP growth in a decade and its budget deficit rose in 2012 to 6.5% of GDP.

Within Jordan’s bicameral Majlis al-Umma (National Assembly), the Majlis al-Nuwaab (Chamber of Deputies), newly expanded to 150 members, are elected in single-seat constituencies, and those 150 deputies are who will be elected in Wednesday’s vote.  The upper house, Majlis al-Aayan (Assembly of Senators), remains more powerful and is comprised of 60 senators, all of whom are appointed by Jordan’s king.

Much of the Jordanian government’s power resides in the Hashemite monarchy, headed since 1999 by Abdullah II (pictured above, top).  The king holds the executive power to sign, implement (or veto) Jordanian laws, may suspend or dissolve parliament, appoints (and dismisses) all judges, retains all military power and the ability to set foreign policy.

In recent years, Abdullah has attempted to open, however slightly, the governing process.  For example, after the 2011 protests, Abdullah agreed to an elected cabinet determined by the Chamber of Deputies — the idea is that the Chamber of Deputies, and not Abdullah, will choose the next prime minister, even if the deputies themselves are pro-government.  Although most of the seats (108) are eligible to be contested only by ‘independents,’ 15 additional seats are reserved for women, and just 27 seats are eligible to be contested by political parties on the basis of a national proportional representation vote.

Despite the reforms, the Muslim Brotherhood has demanded that at least 50% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies be determined by party list, so the relatively narrow opportunity to compete is high on its list of rationales for boycotting the election.

The Muslim Brotherhood created a Jordanian political party in 1992, the Islamic Action Front (جبهة العمل الإسلامي), which is relatively more liberal than most Islamist parties throughout the Arab world (for example, it’s pro-democracy).

Although it won 20 out of 84 eligible seats in the June 2003 parliamentary elections, it won just six seats in the subsequent November 2007 elections, and it boycotted the 2010 elections.

Other smaller parties, including Jordanian communists and Arab nationalists, are also boycotting Wednesday’s parliamentary vote.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, Sheikh Hammam Said (pictured above, bottom) has argued that the 2011 reforms don’t go far enough — in addition to the 27-seat limit, he has called for an end to corruption practiced by the various governments appointed in the past by the monarchy.

The boycott by Jordan’s largest opposition force, however, threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the elections.

Continue reading Muslim Brotherhood boycott highlights Jordanian elections

First Past the Post: January 23

first dance

East and South Asia

Quartz considers the weirdness of the Bank of Japan.

Nitin Gadkari is out — and Rajnath Singh is back in — as chief of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in India.  More analysis here.

Foreign Policy features a photo essay of Tibet during the Cultural Revolution.

Pakistani prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf starts to consider a caretaker government and upcoming spring elections.

South Korea’s outgoing president Lee Myung-bak has vetoed a taxi reform bill.

It didn’t take long for Japan’s new finance minister Taro Aso to make a gaffe.

Filipino candidates may now be campaigning ‘Gangnam style.’

The popularity of Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying is nosediving.

North America

After all the inaugural balls have ended (pictured above), U.S. House Republicans may pass a short-term extension of the debt ceiling.

Considering the fate of the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.

 Latin America / Caribbean

Tyler Cowen considers what a ‘Coasian’ bargain between Asia and relative underpopulated Latin America would look like.

Latin America is decriminalizing abortion.

Back in Venezuela, ministers are optimistic about president Hugo Chávez’s return from medical care.


Eritrea is calm after what appears to have been a failed coup.

Senegal wants to curb its baby boom.

Malians are fleeing for Algeria as the French-led efforts to back the government intensify.

The opposition NPP will now also boycott the vetting of the ministers of Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama.

Kenya’s Amani coalition presidential candidate Musalia Mudavadi announces his running mate.


David Cameron promises an ‘in-or-out’ referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union by 2017.

Georgian foreign minister Maia Panjikidze reinforces its Europe-oriented policy.

Not incredibly reassuring news from Ukraine.

A gay rights demonstration in Moscow turns violent.

Fifty years of amicable Franco-German relations.

Middle East

Final results from the Israeli Knesset elections will come in shortly.

Bahrain’s opposition has agreed to talks with the government.

Hamdeen Sabahi rides again — this time, to win Egypt’s parliamentary elections.

A scandalous video emerges on election day in Jordan.